With funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation, the UMass Lowell Climate Change Initiative and Climate Interactive are partnering to bring transformative climate change education tools to educators and students. Our newly launched project uses simulation role-playing games to put students in the shoes of decision makers, navigating complex social systems while making climate and energy decisions framed by Climate Interactive’s accessible, transparent, and rigorous simulations. Tools, like the World Climate Exercise, offer students an opportunity to find out, in real time, how the climate and energy systems are likely to respond to technological advances, policy interventions, economic and demographic trends, changes in climate-Earth system feedbacks and more. Continue reading
Author Archives: Ellie Johnston
Cross-posted from Climate Access.
Where do you spend your time working on climate change amid the many stakeholders, complex biogeochemical processes, and thousands of laws, rules, and incentives? With limited resources, it can be challenging to know where to focus your efforts.
Techniques and approaches for understanding and addressing the complex challenges we come up against while working on climate can be drawn from the field of systems thinking. Some approaches are age-old, but some have been developed in recent decades by researchers at MIT and elsewhere and have been applied widely to business management settings. Systems thinking is less common in environmental and social change work, but at Climate Interactive we are working to bring trainings in systems thinking to anyone working on climate change looking to hone their leadership.
To explain, let me start with an ancient story from the Indian subcontinent…
On Tuesday in Cambridge, MA the Climate Interactive team won an award for the Best “Real World” Application of System Dynamics at the annual conference of the System Dynamics Society. The award goes to our work on the C-ROADS climate policy model, which thousands have used worldwide to better understand the level of emission reductions needed to address climate change. The award goes to the authors of the paper about C-ROADS that was published last year in the the System Dynamics Review.
The System Dynamics Society website says, “the best application [award] is based primarily on demonstrated measurable benefit to an organization through the use of system dynamics, and secondarily for new ideas that improve the art of applying system dynamics, or for relating work to existing system dynamics literature and/or other disciplines.”
Please visit our site to learn more about C-ROADS and request a copy to use yourself: http://climateinteractive.org/simulations/C-ROADS/overview
Think Progress blogger Joe Romm takes Climate Interactive‘s analysis on the lifetime of fossil fuel infrastructure to build the case that natural gas is not a bridge to a carbon free future. His post announces the premier of Gasland 2 this evening in the U.S., a documentary on the harmful effects of natural gas.
Here’s an excerpt (read the complete post here):
If your goal is 2°C or 3.6°F total warming, then we’ve just about finished building every hydrocarbon-burning power plant we can. That is the conclusion of two of the (very few) groups that have such models — the International Energy Agency and Climate Interactive, which has done climate and energy modeling for everyone from the State Department and the Chinese government.
Climate Interactive used their En-ROADS global energy model to explore “the goal of the Copenhagen Accord – to limit temperature increase to 2°C is still in reach.” They found:
Even if the world also has sustained success eliminating deforestation, reducing emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gasses and improving energy efficiency, new investment in fossil fuel infrastructure can’t occur much beyond 2015 in order to maintain a 50% chance of limiting temperature increase to 2°C in 2100. Having a higher probability of achieving the 2°C goal or keeping these even odds of meeting the goal but delaying the end of the era of fossil fuel investment would require additional measures such as shutting down already-constructed fossil-fuel-using infrastructure before the end of its useful lifetime, further reducing energy demand, or achieving so called negative emissions, where CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and sequestered.
In this thought experiment using the global energy system model En-ROADS, there is no new investment in fossil fuel using infrastructure after 2015, but the long lifetime of the existing infrastructure means that fossil fuel use continues well into the century.
The concept of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” was pushed by the American Gas Association as far back as 1981. It’s the longest bridge in history!
Averting catastrophic warming means it makes little sense to invest tens of billions of dollars in gas infrastructure and gas-fired power plants over the next few years — unless you plan to shut it down within two decades.
This is very similar to the conclusion that the IEA reached with its energy model.
The IEA made clear that natural gas isn’t the “solution” if your goal is staying far from 7°F warming — see IEA’s “Golden Age of Gas Scenario” Leads to More Than 6°F Warming and Out-of-Control Climate Change. It must be noted that even that IEA gas scenario, which results in too much warning, assumes that not only does global oil consumption peak around 2020 — but so does coal! So if one or both of those peaks don’t happen — and they wouldn’t without a high price of carbon and aggressively clean energy deployment starting now — then the Golden Age of Gas is just the “devastating” scenario laid out in last years’s World Bank report, a “world marked by extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise.”
Climate Interactive is excited to launch a new project, called The Climate Leader, to share some time-tested insights into navigating the complex world of taking action on climate. Included will be online lessons with helpful techniques to seeing the big picture and identifying strategic places to invest our energies.
“What we need in this fight are citizens who will stand up and speak up and compel us to do what this moment demands. Understand, this is not just a job for politicians. So I’m going to need all of you, to educate your classmates, your colleagues, your parents, your friends.”
- President Barack Obama, June 25, 2013
Perhaps you’re helping your community ramp up energy efficiency, designing climate policy for governments, protecting a patch of forest, or you’ve picked up another one of the thousands of jobs that are essential to the global struggle to protect a livable climate.
None of us know how the climate struggle is going to turn out, but you have stepped up to contribute anyway. Our goal with The Climate Leader is to help you be as intentional as possible, as bold as possible, and as visionary and clear as you can be. What we offer are some practical and proven approaches for leading in complexity, being strategic, and drawing on both your own rational brilliance and your own deep intuitive instincts through systems thinking.
The first Climate Leader course will be this fall. There will be weekly lessons to inform your work and opportunities to interact with other climate leaders. This course will help you answer questions like:
- How can I best look at the big picture, and why is that so useful?
- How do I identify places that will have the most impact?
- How can my efforts best be amplified?
- What are the root causes of the challenge I’m facing?
The ideas we share were developed out of MIT. Our team at Climate Interactive has decades of experience, and has learned from people with brilliant minds and brimming-over hearts. These are teachers, like Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, John Sterman, Peter Senge, Joanna Macy and many more, who changed our lives and how we saw the world and our work within it. The outlook they shaped is often called systems thinking, but, as you will see if you join The Climate Leader, it’s about much more than thinking!
The course is free, although if you can, we’d love you to donate. In return for what we provide, we expect you will use what you can to make a difference, share what you like, and give us feedback. Our strategy is: we help you, you help us, and together we will do our best to win on climate.
If this sounds useful to your work, please join us by signing up at theclimateleader.org.
To put system thinking techniques into the hands of changemakers, Climate Interactive Co-Director Beth Sawin will be joining David Castro of I-LEAD Inc. to lead a workshop at the Ashoka Future Forum. This event is pulling together 400 top leaders in social innovation, business entrepreneurship, philanthropy and media to wrestle with the biggest problems and share insights on the solutions.
Here is Beth and David’s tantalizing workshop description:
Archimedes, one of the earliest systems thinkers, famously promised, “give me a lever long enough, and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” In their passion for change, leaders and changemakers are constantly searching for that long lever and leverage point, deeply aware that addressing system complexity often marks the difference between success and failure. We may be searching for creative leverage points that yield new results within existing systems, or we may be engaged in ambitious efforts to re-engineer entire systems. Our work with systems often relies only on our intuition, a capacity that tends to fail more frequently in the face of mounting complexity. The rigorous study of systems promises to bring critical system elements into strategic sharp relief, thereby offering the potential for breakthrough strategies and innovations. This workshop will introduce the theory and practice of Systems Thinking, helping participants explore its relevance to changemaking. Participants will practice using its tools applied to current work settings and ongoing projects. The specific tools and concepts considered will include stocks, flows, links, and balancing and reinforcing dynamics. The long lever and its mysterious fulcrum await you. Take hold and move the world.
If you agree that this workshop sounds tantalizing, but you aren’t one of Ashoka’s select 400 participants, fear not. Climate Interactive is gearing up to offer the content of this workshop and much more through an online learning program later this year. We’re still many months from launching this effort, but you can sign up and be the first to know when it is ready.
In the Boston area, as in other places, parents are coming together to discuss how they can address climate change and discuss the issue with their children in a constructive way. University of Massachusetts Lowell Professor, Juliette Rooney Varga, a mom herself, was on hand at one of these events explaining how carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere, just like a bathtub accumulates water when the faucet is on but the drain is plugged or doesn’t drain as fast as the water coming in. We use this analogy frequently here at Climate Interactive and have a simple simulation to help people understand it for themselves. Read below for the full story about the event Juliette was a part of.
In this interview Climate Interactive team member and MIT Professor John Sterman describes how slavery was once an integral source of energy for our society and yet we realized how wrong it was and stopped. John is optimistic that we will come to the same conclusions about the damaging energy sources we are dependent on today.
He explains his research, which shows that people are often so overwhelmed by the scope of climate change and the feeling they can’t do anything about it that they become cognitively dissonant. He explains that we can take steps to help people reorient their thinking about climate change, like reminding people that throughout history people have been able to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges, like ending slavery.
Check out the video interview from the Australian School of Business above or visit their website for the full transcript or audio.
Suggesting that we can reverse climate change or that it’ll be okay because we’re leveling off emissions is thinking that doesn’t reflect the real dynamics of our world. CO2 lasts in the atmosphere for lifetimes, meaning we are already locked in to some amount of climate change. If we were to just level off our emissions and leave it at that, we would still be adding far more CO2 annually to the atmosphere than we can cycle back down to Earth without contributing to climate change.
These are just two angles on some of the misaligned, but generally well-intentioned thinking that one can run across in the daily energy and climate news. Below are two recent examples, both of which pop-up in articles from people trying to find a foothold to defend the widespread exploitation of the reserves of natural gas and oil that have been opened up by hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in a warming world — a tough argument to pull off.
Myth 1: We can reverse climate change. This is from New York Times Op-ed columnist Joe Nocera last Friday:
A reduction of carbon emissions from Chinese power plants would do far more to help reverse climate change than — dare I say it? — blocking the Keystone XL oil pipeline.